“That’s the Chicago way” said Sean Connery as Malone in The Untouchables.
England are no Al Capone. In fact, they’re probably the opposite of the hot-headed mobster.
Unlike Australia or West Indies of previous generations, England’s style is not that of domination or brutality. England do what English cricket teams have done since cricket was first civilized. They take the shine off the new ball, take no undue risks, keep all the good balls out, and make sure that by the time the middle order come in their job is to simply cash in on stale bowlers and an older ball. They just do it far better than almost every other English cricket side before them. It’s cricket the England way.
To beat England you either have to play them in the subcontinent, or get past their top three.
It seems easy when written on paper, but in English conditions it’s like running through Buckingham Palace naked carrying a black bag.
It seemed like South Africa’s main plan, or their only plan, was to bowl wide of off stump. Repeatedly. Perhaps that was hoping that England would chase them. Maybe it was to test their patience. A whole day of that kind of bowling resulted in only one wicket from that plan. In the process they let England put together another one of their large grinding game-shaping efficient partnerships, and completely run away with the game.
If you blurred out the faces of the South Africans, you’d have had no idea if England were playing India, Sri Lanka, West Indies or Australia. All England’s home series look pretty damn similar. It’s all just a blur of Jonathan Trott working the ball off his pads for two and Alastair Cook refusing to sweat.
In almost every way South Africa looked lifeless. Dale Steyn was exhausted and during his first spell leant on the fence like he needed it to stand up. The fielding looked unathletic and slow. Imran Tahir runs like an old woman trying to catch a bus, and has unsuccessfully turned himself into a stock bowler. Jacques Kallis yawned his way through a few spells before waking up for KP. Morne Morkel started well and then had trouble staying on his feet. AB de Villiers did his best, but South Africa would have preferred him to be in the field. And Vernon Philander couldn’t live up to his strike rate on this flat pitch.
And this is a flat pitch. If Mark Ramprakash turned up and The Oval pitch looked like this, he’d take a bed out with him.
That’s more of a reason, than an excuse for how South Africa played. This Test series promised so much and, when Morkel bowled a straight one early on, it looked like it might actually live up to the hype. Then someone at the ECB put an old tape in the VCR.
It’s not all lost for South Africa, bad days happen. And watching the Untouchables could give South Africa some more clues as to how to beat England. “You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way! And that’s how you get Capone. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that?”
Everyone knows exactly what England are going to do, it’s just up to South Africa to do better.